Premature Birth Linked to Adolescent Mood Issues

A new study suggests premature babies are at a higher risk for mood issues and other psychological challenges than full-term babies. The researchers, led by Professor Stephen Wood of the University of Melbourne in Australia, examined the results of ten separate studies evaluating the later mental health of premature babies. The findings revealed that those who were underweight or pre-term were more likely to develop mental health issues, such as depression and psychosis, in puberty. “’As more and more of these babies survive and their physical problems are combated, we are seeing an apparent increase in mood and anxiety disorders,” explains Professor Wood. “It would appear that the earlier a baby is born the more chance there is of problems of this nature occurring.”

The study is the first of its kind to provide evidence of this direct link. Wood adds, “While conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have been known to be a problem in this group, this shows that the chance of developing other mental disorders is also increased. While we cannot as yet be sure of the cause of this problem in pre-term babies – indeed there could be multiple causes – we believe one factor could be how early life trauma affects the way the brain handles stress, and we are now exploring this in more detail.” Wood also believes that although parents should not be overly worried, they should be made aware of the signs of mental disturbance. He says, “We believe it is important to raise awareness of this issue and pay attention to it. It is easy to ignore or miss the signs and early care is extremely helpful. Being aware can increase the likelihood of mood disorders being diagnosed and tackled. There are many services available for young people and we would recommend psychological therapies for young people rather than medication.”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • fern givens

    fern givens

    June 29th, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    Premature babies are at a risk for many things. Mood issues should be at the bottom of your priority list if you have a child that was born premature in my opinion.

    I don’t really understand why premature babies don’t grow out of those problems like they do physical ones once they catch up in their development.

  • Geoff


    May 5th, 2017 at 3:54 PM

    @ Victoria. As a 26 week preemie myself, (now in my late 30’s) I would just like to say that you are not alone in having these feelings, and that it is not your, or your parents fault, you feel this way. Infact, I think you are amazing, you have done something you were not designed to do. For all the intervention, and assistance you received in the NICU. It was just that – assistance, You were the one that did the hard work! You survived!
    In talking to over 30 other adult preemies of various ages, the issue of depression and anxiety is one of the most common (and there are many) that we have to deal with. It does not just appear when we turn 13 or go away when we turn 20. Most of us with Anxiety have had it since we were born, yet have just adapted to life with it, we know we are different from an early age, we just don’t know why, and no-one likes to be different, we just become good at hiding it.
    The reason this research is important, is that this is not a condition that just suddenly disappears; this is for life. This is medication for life, his is social anxiety for life. I was diagnosed with anxiety at 30, and if someone had told me that i had this at 13 or 14, perhaps i would have understood why i struggled at school, or why i didn’t make many friends, or why i always go passed over for that promotion, and perhaps i could have sought help for it sooner. So understanding WHY this is happening is of huge importance not only to the individuals who are affected by this, but also for the healthcare bodies. If they know what to look for, and act on it earlier using cheaper (shorter) treatments like Counseling or CBT, it may save in the long term on having to pay for a lifetime of expensive medication.
    Finally; @Savannah. I am glad that you feel that your daughter does not have any issues. It must be quite a comfort for you to think that. – This is also exactly how my parents still feel about me… they are wrong, but they are much happier thinking i am that perfect miracle.
    @fern givens. As other have stated, your comments about babies “growing out of these problems” and your assumption that they WILL catch up in development, shows your lack of understanding of many of the issues surround premature development. You also appear to have missed the point of the article all together. It is not about the mood of the babies that is being studies. It is the mood of the adolescence, who were once premature babies.

  • joan brubaker

    joan brubaker

    June 29th, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    @fern-They don’t because it’s like growing out of a stroke or a blow to the head. If the brain isn’t properly developed or gets damaged, there will be problems and they will not go away. The brain is too complicated and elaborate to heal simply like most vital organs.

  • teach


    June 29th, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    What’s worst of all is that you simply can’t do much to prevent a child from being born prematurely. Even a few weeks can be detrimental to an unborn child if they are unlucky. If one is born premature, then there will be several more challenges to deal with as a parent than what most others go through that have full-term babies.

    This development of mood issues will be another to watch out for as they grow into their teens and beyond. These children don’t have much luck at all do they! Better to know about it than not though.

  • Emma


    June 30th, 2011 at 4:45 AM

    Yes we have to treat the teens when these issues arise. But maybe the more pressing problem is to try to prevent premature births from occuring at such high rates in the first place. When this is the problem, one that in many cases is so preventable, then we have to pay attention to that and put more research funding into the problem. Think about all of the scary things that can happen to a child both in the here and now and as we now see the long term that could be prevented if only the gestation was allowed to develop to full term. I know that little attention has been given to this area but maybe this is the time to give voice to that.



    June 30th, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    Hmm…biology doing it’s dirty job…anyway,what should be the ideal recourse to actually combat this? Therapy or just maybe even a few talk session for the child like at the age of 10 or so??

  • Trinnie Brooks

    Trinnie Brooks

    July 1st, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    Underdeveloped brains don’t function correctly. Everyone already knows this. That they would wind up with mood and mental issues is a logical assumption so unsurprising.

    Shouldn’t we be spending more of this research time on improving how well we can treat premature babies?

  • Savannah


    July 3rd, 2011 at 2:03 PM

    This is such crap. My child was premature, nothing that I did caused this it just happened. And she has been fine since the day she was born. Why are we always trying to find something or someone to blame for things that maybe have no explanation at all? I mean, there are going to be kids who have issues whether we like it or not and no matter what kind of home that they grow up in or how early they may have been born. Being premature does not have to mean a lifetime of health issues and it is time to stop passing the blame.

  • Carissa


    May 9th, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    They are not saying this is the cause with all premature babies, but that premature babies are at a higher risk. I do agree with them, their brains are not formed the way they should be being born early and this can cause what some have called power surges/overloads. Also being in the hospital for a few months can be very traumatic not just for the family but baby too. So although you and your child are one of the lucky ones there are some of us out there that do see these issues and are trying to gather information to help our children.

  • Victoria


    December 13th, 2016 at 9:03 PM

    I was a NICU premature baby. I came to this website because I wanted help explaining some of the things I have been experiencing lately as a premature baby. I’m guessing from your comment that you aren’t a premature baby, because it doesn’t look like you know how it feels to have indescribable, soul-crushing loneliness, to not know who you are inside, to have to think about what your parents will have to go through if you commit suicide even when you’ve had enough of this world, to feel certain you won’t get through the year without committing suicide ever since you were a nine year old girl wearing pigtails and playing with dolls- all to be told by someone that you are just blaming it on merely being born early. I’m the happiest girl in my school. I’m friends with everyone, my parents are both family therapists.
    So tell me.
    How is this their fault?

  • The Team

    The Team

    December 14th, 2016 at 7:53 AM

    Hi Victoria,
    We wanted to reach out with some resources so if you do ever have the urge to do harm to yourself, you know there is help available! If you are in crisis, it is very important you seek help immediately. You can do one of the following immediately:

  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
    Call your local law enforcement agency (911).
    Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY).
  • Please know we are thinking of you and wishing you all the very best.
    Kind regards,
    The Team

  • Janice


    July 5th, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    This is so good to let parents of these children with the most potential for developing these issues know early the kinds of things that they could be facing. And giving them some clues about things to be on the lookout for can seriously aid with early intervention.

  • Jamie


    October 16th, 2011 at 4:41 AM

    To Savannah:

    I completely agree with you on this one!

    All too often, people (especially those trained in the medical field) find a “weaker link” to try and blame problems (in reality, the “numerous obstacles”, by definition, were produced by the blamers themselves) onto those people. Those innocent, in turn, become scapegoats and are subjected to numerous “cruel labels”, which only evolve to its’ ugliest form as time goes on.

    All I wish to say to them (and yes, in their face) is this: “the reality is you were the ones who caused these things to happen to them so shut up, grow up, and leave those people (AKA: “scapegoats”) alone”!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying what you have said!


  • sea moore

    sea moore

    November 10th, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    Interesting commenting regarding depression remaining at the bottom of the priority list. Sure, at birth, this is not a concern, however, as the child enters adolescence depression becomes a huge issue. As the child is dealing with the common stressors of entering highschool, remaining below his/her peers on the growth chart, and delayed puberty, this is a large consideration. Parents must be proactive as they reach this age. Currently, I am personally aware of a 15 year old seemingly happy female who was recently committed for suicidal ideation. Financially, well supported, involved in many extracuricular activities, and lots of friends. The problem for this individual is believed to be linked to her delayed menarche, continuous shunning by male & female peers due to her child-like appearance, and of course the expectation of her parents that she progress as others in her age group have progressed. My question to experts is how can you be pro-active, how do you treat this problem?

  • konz


    September 7th, 2017 at 8:23 PM

    if a baby it’s born prematurely, please leave it die and go have sex again, make a new baby… i am premature adult and i have a miserable life , health problems because i was born premature..

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